The Oak and the Fir Tree: A Christmas Legend


Boniface felling the Donar Oak. Ill.: Heinrich Maria von Hess (1834)

There are many stories of how the fir tree came to symbolize Christmas. Here is one of them:

Saint Boniface (675-754) was born in England, but traveled to what is today Germany to convert the local pagan tribes to Christianity. In 723 or 724, frustrated by the recent converts continued veneration of a giant oak, called Donar’s oak (or Thor’s oak), where they kept carrying out sacrifices, he took up his axe and felled the monstrous tree with one mighty blow. As the tree fell, a beautiful fir tree sprang from its center. 

This tree, Saint Boniface told the people, was a holy tree, the tree of the Christ Child, and its evergreen branches, pointing to heaven, symbolized the promise of eternal life. He then instructed the people to carry a fir tree from the wilderness into their homes at Christmas, surrounding it with gifts as symbols of love and kindness. Thus, the Christmas tree was born.

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